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Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum celebrates its 10th anniversary

Despite grappling with financial problems and the lack of a clear profile, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum can pride itself on its success.

Money, of course, is needed everywhere. This explains why the Swiss government drastically reduced its subsidy to the Museum, cutting it by almost one million Swiss francs between the periods 1994-1997 and 1998-2001. Donations have fallen by half since 1995 when they raised over 600,000 francs. This drop is not due to a lack of initiative. Helped by the founder, Laurent Marti, and the President of the Foundation Board, Jean-Pierre Hocké, the former director Didier Helg succeeded, at the end of the 1980s, in redressing a deficit of more than one and a half million francs.

The promotion booklet entitled Ten years: Past achievements, future prospects contains the following remark: “Volunteers have made possible savings on staff costs of around 400,000 Swiss francs a year, or four million Swiss francs over 10 years”. This observation reveals how tight the budget is. Knowing this, it is easier to understand why the celebration of the 10th anniversary, on 22 October, will be a more modest affair than originally planned. A gala will be held at the Théâtre des Forces Motrices in Geneva, featuring musicians who have performed in the 589 summer concerts held at the Museum since 1990.

A difficult task

The friends of the Museum, its 50 volunteers and 10 employees, still regret the departure of Didier Helg in 1996, followed by that of the curator, Jean-Pierre Gaume. And since misfortunes always come in threes, the director who replaced Mr Helg — Christine Muller — handed in her notice after an all too brief stay. Appointed earlier this year, her successor Roger Mayou declares : “It would be unwise to build castles in the air. For the moment, I’m learning.” Learning in order to assume the considerable responsibilities which come with the job — namely, management, organizing various activities, fundraising, becoming familiar with the “house culture” and diplomacy.

Nevertheless, a miracle has occurred over the last few years. Buses parked outside day after day bring an average of 80,000 visitors per year — a figure that compares favourably with other museums. And the numbers have not diminished. Certain exhibitions attracted considerable media and public interest. To mention but the most recent: “Sarajevo”, “Mandela: A Life”, and another entitled “From Gun to Stretcher” were all undeniable successes.

Taking stock of the situation, Laurent Marti is satisfied. “Everyone agrees that the Museum is a must. It has achieved its goal, both from the architectural and museological point of view. It is a symbol. To such an extent that at a time when Switzerland is under attack from the outside, the government should grant greater aid to the Museum. This would be a way of reminding other countries that, even if Switzerland has committed errors, it has nevertheless founded the only worldwide humanitarian movement: the Red Cross and Red Crescent.”

This optimism should not, however, mask the questions concerning the Museum’s identity. A “clear line” remains to be defined, and financial aid alone cannot solve the problem. In particular, a decision must be taken on the Museum’s mission and the endless hedging between the two contradictory although equally legitimate identities must be stopped: on the one hand, that of an educational and propagandist showcase for the Movement, and on the other, that of a museological and scientific study of humanitarian action.

Serge Bimpage
Serge Bimpage is a journalist with La Tribune de Genève.

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